The only thing I knew was that I did not want to live in Britain. I’d just spent 2 years living and working in an environment with hundreds of people from dozens of different countries — being back home in Britain made me feel uncomfortable. It was too small. Not international enough. I felt like I had outgrown it, like a schoolboy outgrowing his school clothes. I needed to get out. I moved to Portugal when I was 23. It was a bit scary, but not nearly as scary of thinking of being squashed back into Britishness. Although, Britishness has never left me, it is an identity I don’t wear comfortably.
I have discovered that the 4 stages of cultural adaptation are more of s cycle than a straight line — there are times I come back to honeymoon, and times I go back into the rejection stage. I think I’m resigned to the fact that there are times I will go through these different stages, also as I get older and transition into new chapters in my life I will need to grapple with the cultural parts.
In a couple of months it will be 30 years since I took that decision to run away from the British Isles. We are living in the shadow of Brexit — which frightens me to death to think how that narrow-minded small Island is becoming shrinking further as we hurtle towards the 1970s again. What a crap decade that was and will be again.
There is one stage of the cultural adaptation process that I have avoided and hope to stay well clear of for a long time to come … stage 5 … re-entry. I still remember the pain of the two years I live in the UK from the age of 21 – 23 … the trauma is still with me. A friend retired back to the UK some years ago. It did not go well, at all. Another, who had lived in Europe for over 40 years, moved back to the USA has had dreadful trouble as he no longer saw himself reflected in the country he has gone back to after these years. Moving backwards towards the known can be more frightening than moving forwards into the unknown. The French sociologist Claude Dubar (La crise des identités) talks about the crisis in identity and the process we go through to successfully create new identities. This is true of any transition stage of life.
If you are in a change stage and don’t quite know how to handle it — first realize that you are not alone, not a bad person, not going nuts (quite yet). You are in transition — and transition is a tough process to go through. Especially on your own. Intercultural training can help with dealing with some of the pain of transition and help you to develop strategies with how to deal with it. For example, if I should ever have to go back to Brexitland, I will struggle, but I have tools and strategies to help me through — I hope — but one can only ever hope and prepare.